Why are they massacring the Awa ?
(Translated by Anne Boylon, a CSN volunteer translator)
(2/23/2009) (Author: Communication Web and External Relations for Truth and Life-ACIN)
In time, the inefficiency of the State, its laws and its terror will have combined to consolidate dispossession and expropriation in such a way that it will become an accomplished historical fact. By then, the mega- projects and the usurpers of the wealth will be established, the territory will have been exploited and the struggle, sacrifice and suffering of the victims will be buried by the infamy of a history written by greed and total indifference.
We write these lines overcome by pain and sorrow. We write them from the shared rage caused by this criminal act – apparently committed by the FARC to whom we direct our condemnation of these unalterable acts and for the innocent blood spilled.
We write as the Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, arrives in the Narino department to direct the military operations which are the response of the State to the massacres and terror to which this indigenous population has been victim. Mr. Santos who, in a statement to the media, said that it had been very difficult to obtain the cooperation of the indigenous people, declared: “We hope to be able to convince them that the best position, the best attitude that they can assume, is that of collaboration with the authorities, with the military.”
“Al caido caerle”, (kick him while he’s down) This is the proverb that the government applies to this terrible situation, basing their reaction, according the available information, on their certitude that it was the FARC who committed the massacre. Now, however, it seems the massacre is the fault of the victims, as are the massive displacements, the disappearances and the terror to which the communities are condemned. It is their fault, says the Minister, because they have not wished to collaborate with the public forces. He tries to convince us that, if the military had been in the area, these horrible crimes would not have been committed. As a consequence, the entire territory will now be militarized with the excuse that the Awa have to be protected. The Awa themselves, agonized and in distress, are fleeing to the jungles. Some of their leaders see no alternative but to seek the help of the military. The media, the government spokespersons and the parties which back it echo this call. Colombians, horrified at the on-going genocide, repeat the cry.
As one voice we call for these populations to be protected and for justice to be done; we denounce the murderers, whoever they are – in this case the FARC who, by carrying out these atrocious deeds, confirm a terrible truth: that they have become one factor more in the terrorization of the people. They join the paramilitaries, the military and all those who wreak their violence on the people and communities of Colombia. We have denounced this and today we repeat our denouncement: The ultimate goal of this terror is a means to certain ends which must be faced. If we ignore them, the horrific crimes seem like ends in themselves, as though there is no ulterior motive for these massacres and the terrorization of the people. But this terror, from wherever it comes, does have other purposes. And that is why the truth demands a different response from all the citizenry of the country, from the organizations and the indigenous populations and with the support of the Governments and peoples of the world.
The truth can be found in the answer to a question that needs to be asked: Why do they massacre the Awa? Then, after asking this question straight out, it is essential that we react coherently and with decisiveness. If not, the terror of this massacre will serve as an excuse to commit others as a way to dispossess the Awa of their land, their culture and their way of life; a way to disappear them in a planned genocide. Then those who have sacrificed themselves defending the lives, culture and land of the Awa will have done so in vain.. And we will have been convinced once again that these massacres against the Awa in Narino have nothing in common with the massacres in San Jose de Apartado, Uraba, Catatumbo, Amazonia, Cauca and in the entire national territory. They will have convinced us that there is no connection between them and the assassinations of women, unionists, peasants, and human rights defenders. But we know that this terror is a perverse means to a perverse end; because we keep memory alive; we lay bare the truth of terrible deeds done. And now with rage and sorrow we denounce and condemn the FARC for the crime they committed and for contributing in this way not only to the sowing of death, misery and pain, but also for helping to dispossess the indigenous peoples of their land.
1. Terror as a tool:
“We are peoples of the mountain, children of the forest; therefore they will have to take us out dead,” was the ominous declaration made by Eder Burgos, Coordinator of Camawari, on August 10, 2008, during the Audience held to make public the critical violations of human rights and of International Humanitarian Law which the indigenous Awa people are suffering. This audience was held before various state officials, control organisms, representatives of the United Nations and NGO human rights organizations and under the vigilance of more than 70 indigenous persons who had come for the audience from the south of Colombia. According to ONIC’s official communiqué, “A report, which was the product of a participatory process, was presented in the Audience by the authorities and representatives of the Awa peoples, the Office of the High Commission of the United Nations for Refugees, the Peoples Defender, and SAT.” The report made dramatically clear the development of the territorial struggle against the indigenous by the armed players. This communiqué indicated that the denouncements made by communities located in the Tumaco, Barbacoas, Roberto Paya, Samaniego and Ricaurte municipalities were clear and precise: “for three days their ancestral territory has been bombed, including densely populated areas in the Ricaurte municipality where displaced people are located, and in the Magui and Imbima reserves.” The Narino peoples’ defender also denounced these bombings to his superior by letter. It is in these areas where the massacres against the communities are being perpetrated.
Both the Resolution and the Report denounce the terror and present conclusive evidence about this dirty war in which the military and the illegal armed players are all involved. They document the use of this terror as a strategy to dispossess them of their lands.
The Report’s evidence, the Audience and the Resolution make abundantly clear that the claims of the Defense Minister are totally without foundation. The military has been and continues to be a factor in the terror against the Awa and, therefore, far from constituting a guarantee of protection against the human rights violations, are a direct threat against their safeguarding. All of the armed players use violence against the Awa.
2. Greed and the Mega-projects
a. Agro-business and the plantations: The Pacific Coast and the foot of the Occidental mountain range, which includes the ancestral territory of the Awa people endangered by the massacres and on-going displacements, are areas of great strategic importance for legal and illegal economic projects. These include rubber and palm oil plantations just as well as coca plantations and processing laboratories. As in the rest of the country, these agro-business projects require and depend upon the use of violence and terror against the ancestral dwelling places in order to dispossess its inhabitants.
b. Mining and Vital Resources: According to conclusions drawn by the Bulletin on the Situation of Human Rights and the DIH in Narino: “the geographic richness in the Narino area has been the focus of investment studies by multinationals who seek to carry out explorations for strategic resources, such as gold and uranium. A report done by Ingeominas reveals that the Kedahda S.A. Society, a subsidiary of Anglo Gold Ashanti, presented 110 requests for concessionary contracts in the Narino department in July, 2007. Because of this company’s previous incursions into the territory, incursions which have involved clear human rights violations, these requests are worrisome in the extreme. Among the 37 Narino municipalities where Kedahda S.A. has requested concessions are areas where there are immense deposits of gold, zinc, copper, silver, platinum and molybdenum: Taminango, Leiva, Rosario, Policarpa, Cumbtaro, Samaniego and Barbacoas. And coincidentally it is in these very municipalities that there is a greater presence of the military and of the illegal armed groups, all of whom have acted with a complete disregard for human rights and in violation of International Humanitarian Law, submitting the populations of these territories to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” This ancestral territory of the Awa is notorious for its great hydric richness, its biodiversity, its plentiful timber and coal. It is for these that the trans-nationals have come.
c. Infrastructure: The Multimodal Amazon Center of IIRSA (South American Regional Integration of Infrastructure) crosses the Awa territory from the Narrno Pacific Coast. The 284 kilometers of the Pasto-Tumaco highway cross through the disputed Awa territory and are part of the multimodal Tumaco-Puerto Asis-Belem do Para corridor which unites the Pacific Coast with the Atlantic, crossing the South American continent by way of the Amazon. Beyond the benefits that these modern and costly roads could generate and beyond their enormous environmental destructive potential is the reality that these roads are constructed with the single purpose of opening the territory for the privatization, exploitation and extraction of its riches by the multi-nationals. These highways are a concession to private interests and therefore facilitate the displacement and destruction of the peoples who are in the way of these great designs. And the Awa people who live in the middle of this mega-project are in the way and therefore must be dealt with. Over time, the absence or submission of the Awa, who have historical rights to these lands, will serve the interests of those who benefit from this mega-project.
d. Tourism and Other Interests: The beauty and enormous richness of the Awa territory at the foot of the mountains and the Pacific Coast are ideal for tourism consortiums. These tourism projects expel or exploit those dispossessed indigenous people and rake in huge profits by appropriating autonomous territories and their peoples who become private commodities to exploit for profit. Other interests exploit the biodiversity and lay claim to plant life and knowledge gained over centuries by supposedly legal patenting.
The Carrot and the Stick: Terror and the Law.
Those who promote and in the long run benefit by death and dispossession use any means in order to gain the riches and resources for which they seek. While the dirty work of terror is carried out by diverse armed actors, legal and illegal, who engage in criminal acts of war among themselves and against the people in order to achieve the expulsion or exploitation of the indigenous people and the privatization of the territory, the Colombian State implements policies that provide the legal institutional covering for the exploitation of these lands.
A powerful example of this can be found in the 2007 Rural Legistation or Law 1152. The only paragraph of article 123 of this law reads: “Indigenous reserves and other areas of the country with similar conditions cannot be creaed, enlarged or drained according to article 2 of the 1993 Law No 70.” This article delimits the Pacific Cuenca as a Territory located in the line that goes from the Chiles volcano at the border with Ecuador and the Golf of Uraba in the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Ocean. This immense territory which takes in mountain ranges, the foot of mountains and the coast includes the territory of the Awa people of Narino.
According to the article cited in the Rural Legislation, indigenous reserves in the Pacific Cuenca cannot be constituted, enlarged or drained. The Awa peoples lose, by that law, the right to a great part of their present and ancestral territory. This territory is thus “liberated” for economic exploitation and for the authors of the terror who end up benefiting either directly or indirectly. The Awa have made four Constitution of Reserve requests, eight for enlargement and 15 for drainage which are on hold by the government.
At the present time, the Constitutional Court is close to emitting a decision on the Rural Statute. If law 1152 is declared null as was the Forest Law in April of 2008 on the basis that it violated the legal obligation to hold previous consultation with the affected parties, in this case the Awa, then theoretically other populations could set in motion legal claims to resolve their territorial rights. But it is impossible for those who are massacred, for those who are displaced, for those who are confined and for those who are threatened to initiate and carry out lengthy legal processes. And meanwhile new proprietors will appear with fake deeds which will be legalized with little difficulty.
In time the inefficiency of the State, its laws and its terror, will have combined to consolidate the dispossession and the expropriation will become an accomplished historical fact. Then the mega-projects and the usurpers of the wealth will have become established, the territory will have been exploited and the struggle, sacrifice and suffering of the victims will by buried by the infamy of a story written by greed and indifference.
The Awa people fight for their dignity, for their lives and for the life of their territory. They are exterminated and dispossessed so that insatiable greed can be satisfied. Although it is important and urgent to know who committed this terrible and unpardonable massacre, so that justice be done, the truth be known and reparation made to those affected, it is even more important to understand that the massacres are committed for the purpose of dispossessing the Awa of their lands. We must, therefore, denounce the crimes and mobilize ourselves in resistance to this project which uses terror as a means and are killing our brothers in order to rob them.
We make an appeal:
First we join with ONIC, with all the indigenous peoples and with all the organizations and persons who feel the commitment and need to join the victims in solidarity; and we call on ourselves to join the Minga Humanitaria which is organizing to make a presence in these endangered communities and to replace our pain with their generous accompaniment and concrete action.
Secondly, we join those who are calling for the Minga Social and Community Resistance to mobilize. The message is clear. The assassination of Aida Quilcue and her companion, Edwin Legarda, carried out by the National Army acting under the orders of those who implement the Democratic Security Policy as a false positive* against popular resistance, is now followed by massacres, committed by the FARC who serve as an excuse to escalate the dispossession under the cover of an indifferent society and world.
This isn’t just a problem for the Awa, nor is it just a problem of indigenous peoples; it is not a crime against the Narino people. It is an act of terror that is part of the accelerating implementation of policies designed to dispossess people of their lands by killing them. This is Plan Colombia at work: a mega-project that delivers up our territories and lives to the greed of global capital.
Faced with such evident horror, we cannot continue watching from afar or wait for our turn. It is time to understand why they have killed; why they continue killing and to stand up and resist. It is time to reject, once and for all, the horror committed by the FARC in the name of the people, just as we reject that of the governing regime.
It is also sadly evident that it is of little use to have lands, to denounce human rights violations or to negotiate agreements with a legitimate government when the development model, its treaties and its laws make terror, from wherever it comes, possible: massacres, displacement and dispossession. It is now a priority that we resist this model in all of its totality. These conditions and these horrific acts make it necessary to recognize that everything else – including the politics involved in the electoral process must be subordinate to the need to mobilize and act in Minga to resist and stop the accelerated course of dispossession for which this massacre is but one event.
We call for the Social and Communitarian Minga. We will resist the death model that comes with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with the laws of dispossession, with terror, with the unfulfilled agreements, and with the absence of a people’s network for liberty. We will decide in Minga how to stop the horror of the FARC, of the State and of all the armed groups in Narino and in Colombia. We will decide how to support the Awa in the defense of their territory and how to defend their lives and our territories from this advancing death that helps a few to become rich.
So that the dead rest and their families remake their lives, that the Awa regain their dignity, and their lands be safe from robbery; so that those who have the weapons clear off, leave us in peace and never again tell us that they are protecting and fighting for us; so that we have a country made up of peoples without owners and so that there are no more massacres, we will fight with Social and Community Minga; we will meet in a collective territory and with them create consciousness from sorrow and a way out of pain.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621